Unspoken: Doctor Depression and Suicide


I love you. I’m going to miss you.
It was a goodbye letter, basically. He had killed himself
or was about to kill himself. Actions of mine contributed to a man’s death.
Those things have profound effects on physicians.
We know from the data that half of physicians are burnt out, a
third of them are depressed. We’re still seeing a high number
of suicides for this profession. The stigma around mental illness
and medicine is so strong. People were coming to me and
saying I’m a doctor, I don’t want it on my record. In general, the medical
profession contributes to the problem. The board’s mission is to
protect the public. The best way to
protect the public includes making sure the physician is healthy and well.
No physician should be dying from suicide, right? I am a killer. That’s a fact. That thought goes through
your head. That thought doesn’t leave. Actions of mine
contributed to a man’s death. I was paged to take this patient
to the operating room so we could repair his bleeding. We
put a breathing tube in to enable a surgery to find the
bleeding. When I put in the new breathing tube his heart rate
went down to zero. It became clear he was not going to wake up. Then afterwards when I did read the obituary for this man, he had children, very young. Everything became more like just
going through the motions. He wasn’t as invested at home with
me or after our kids were born. So I was just waiting for him
to get back to himself. I definitely cried about this
every day, going into work and going home. There’s always a
sense in a question of like, well where’s the justice in this
situation? There’s only way to make this situation right. And
that answer was suicide. Physician suicide is a problem.
We see bad things happen. You know we see people die, we see
people lose their children. Those things have profound
effects on physicians. When there are traumatic things that
happen, helping the caregivers get through that is not usually
the first thought. I had all the materials. My plan was I was
going to commit suicide, just start an I.V. on myself, inject
the medicines. I’d stop breathing. Things would take
their course in 20 minutes and that would be that. I opened the
door to my room and there was a spiral-bound notebook and a
laptop sitting on his spot on the bed. “I’m sorry I’m not
there. I still love you.” …and realized the bottom line
was he had killed himself or was about to kill himself. I didn’t know
what stage of his plan he was in. I was completely surprised
because although he was obviously depressed for going on
a couple of years, let’s say, I didn’t know that he had ever
thought about it. I didn’t know that he was capable of ever
thinking about it. I was very angry that he would from my
perspective destroy mine and his children’s lives based on this.
The main thing I remember is she grabbed my hand, put it over her
heart. She said well can’t you feel this? Why haven’t you said anything? Why would you want to
leave? I got tons of education on how to prevent disasters and
accidents. I had no education on what to do if and when one
happens to you. I think in general the medical profession
contributes to the problem of physician depression and
physician suicide. One of the things I learned when I became a
physician is that people are willing to tell you their story.
What you learn is that there is a lot of struggle with mental
health issues. I got interested in the fact that this was going
on in our own profession. I definitely see patients in my
practice who are physicians and they will come to me and say
don’t put this on my record. I’m a doctor. I don’t want it on my
record. So it’s OK for our patients to have it but I kind
of wondered why is it so different for us compared to
everybody else. The numbers that we use for physician suicide
don’t have great data about them they’re mostly based on expert
opinion. Suicide is a hard thing to track down because it’s
stigmatized. It probably is hidden somewhat because of their
status in a community. If a physician committed suicide it
might be reported as something else. “Oh, Dr. Jones had an
accident.” In the research I’m doing now I’m reading through
literally thousands and thousands and thousands of
reports of how people died in what situations were going on in
their lives. And what my research is showing is that yes
it does look like physicians have a higher rate of suicide
than the general population. I mean, it’s worrisome in my mind
because it’s a) it’s a group that you would expect to have
access to care and b) I know that I am probably way
underestimating the numbers. I can remember getting the call.
As soon as she called and told me that he had disappeared I
think I just knew. They found him. He pulled into a cul-de-sac
and then kind of like down like a little ravine and just pulled
back there and shot himself in the heart. This is Glenwood
Avenue. It’s where I got the sad news about Dr. Hardison. I had
to pull over and think for a few minutes, you know, and get
myself composed. And it was because I said to myself, this
man had the perfect life. He was good at whatever he did.
It’s always in the back of your mind, like that thing happened, we’re
the family that thing happened to that people whisper about.
Sometimes I’ll wake up and I’ll just be so pissed, just so angry
and then other days I wake up and I think why am I mad at
somebody who was so distraught that they did this terrible
thing? I can remember patients coming up to me and just saying, you look so much like him. This is a box of all the letters that
we got from my dad’s patients after he passed. “The shock of
suddenly losing this wonderful man must feel too great to bear.
It’s odd he knew so much about me and I knew so little about
him, but I know he was a warm and gentle soul.” All of these
guys are doctors in this photo. Even though they were my dad’s
closest friends, he wouldn’t have talked about that with them.
He had some issues of trying to get help. He was
afraid it might impact his license. I never thought that
doctors would be depressed or need support or things like
that. It really was a wake-up call to me. The stigma around
mental illness and medicine is so strong that I don’t even
think he would admit it to his closest friends. Honestly, I
don’t even really know if he admitted it to himself. He was 100 percent positive that if he came forward and said he needed help that there would be a reprisal of some sort. Since the
medical board deals with your licensing, there was a fear that
if you sort of admitted that you needed help it would undermine
who you were as a doctor and they would start digging into
things that hadn’t even been done incorrectly and that would
just result in like smearing your name or losing your license
or you know just possibilities like that that were terrifying.
Most physicians are worried about reporting anything to the
medical board. They want to be honest but they’re very very
afraid that if they admit to something this may lead to a big
investigation. So when you start to apply for a license there’s
an initial license in every state. The way some of the
states are set up now there are questions on there about mental
health and it might be about diagnosis, it might be
hospitalization, it might be treatment. If you indicate that
you have had a diagnosis or have been hospitalized or that you’ve
had impairment from this, then they usually require you to do
additional steps. What they require depends completely on the board.
The board’s mission is very simple it’s stated in
statute, basically to protect the public against people who should not be
practicing medicine. Question number thirty. Have you been
diagnosed within the past five years with a physical condition
or a mental health disorder involving potential health risk
to the public? If yes, please provide a detailed explanation.
With mental health. We don’t go into specifics, but we do want
to make sure that our providers are stable individuals. Again,
to prevent any harm to patients. I think boards are very
concerned, understandably so, about patient safety but we
don’t have any data that identifying that someone has a
diagnosis makes it safer for patients. Not that I’m aware of. That may be a question for the board in our department to review. The first thing I did is I went to my board, the North Carolina Medical Society. And I said, and I shared the story with them,
and I said we have an obligation to do something about this now.
The tragedy opened up some serious discussions with people
that are involved in licensure. The medical board revised the
question and took the one out that was a little bit more
intimidating because they recognized that it wasn’t
helping them anyway. It also was a message to say, you know, it’s okay to seek help, you’re not going to lose your license over it. This is the nation’s state medical and osteopathic
medical boards coming together to deliberate and to talk about
policy recommendations for the states. I was invited to this
FSMB meeting to talk about some of my research which has
influenced their recommendations to state medical boards about
asking about mental health questions. So the Federation of
State Medical Boards has done a report on physician wellness and
burnout and they have come up with 35 recommendations. The
first 10 recommendations which were all about what state
medical boards should ask if they’re going to ask questions
related to mental health and the first recommendation is, we
don’t think it’s helpful to ask questions about mental health,
and we do think it prevents physicians from getting
treatment. I think it’s pretty big. I mean this is really the
first time FSMB has come out saying consider not asking these
kinds of questions on state boards. Do physicians with a
history or diagnosis of mental health problem pose a risk to
patients? We have very little data that this is true. In the
mental health questions, only half of states asked about
current impairment. And many of these states asked about
unlimited time periods. So when you were in eighth grade and
your parents got divorced and you got dragged to the therapist
who felt that you had oppositional defiant disorder,
technically you need to report that. I think if there were more
lawsuits where people said wait you can’t ask me about 20 years
ago or have I ever had a mental health problem in my entire life, I think there would be more restricted questions. ADA says you can ask whatever you want, but if the question is
whether you have a diagnosis, and you make only those people
submit more information, that’s putting a special burden on
people with a disability. There’s quite widespread concern
that many of these questions would not hold up if they were
challenged in a court of law because they’re very broad, they
don’t talk about current impairment. So every state board, there are 70 of them, has a delegate who is represented
here. So each of those delegates is empowered to be here to vote.
So it’s kind of like a mini Congress. Good afternoon
everyone, I will now call the role of delegates… Alabama…
Alaska… It does have a lot of meaning when the nation’s state
medical boards decide to support a particular point of view on
anything. All in favor of accepting the document as an
amended, please signify by saying aye? Aye. Any opposed? Excellent. The motion passes and the document is adopted. Honestly, I think he would be thrilled that something about
his life helped somebody and horrified that this story is
public, and that’s almost to me the reason why we have to do it
because he felt like it couldn’t be talked about and it shouldn’t
be something anybody knew. And I don’t feel that way. Even though
the world out there thinks that we are somehow superhuman and
make no mistakes, we’re still human and we still make
mistakes. Unfortunately the consequences of our mistakes can
be much more serious. Recovery is possible. No matter what it
is you think think you’ve done or what’s happened. It’s one of
the great parts of life. I don’t think he’s distant but I don’t
think we’ve recovered everything that was lost during that time.
It’s like an injury that hasn’t fully healed. It’s still there.
I know every day there’s two orphans. I know there’s a widow.
I don’t know how much good you have to do how much healing you
have to do to make up for the harm you felt you’ve done. I
don’t really ever want to reach the point where I feel like I’ve
done enough where it makes up for that.

About the author

Comments

  1. I did a moving job for James Packard. did an outstanding job. no damages. record time. tipped 24$ for 3 of us to split. I gave it back. cheap mothwrfucker

  2. As someone who has almost died more than once due to the mental health impairment of physicians causing severe life-threatening medical harm to my body, I have great concern that you want to stop asking the questions from the state boards about mental health of new candidates or renewals. If a physician says they do have a history of mental illness, they need to have an objective and unbiased psychiatric evaluation for safety to patients and appropriate mental health care before being allowed to practice. If they have become impaired while practicing, they need to be put on sabbatical until they are mentally well enough to practice. This is how patients with mental health concerns are treated. We as patients are even forced and coerced into the mental health system when we do not even have mental health issues, having our basic human rights violated. Both physicians and patients should be evaluated and treated if necessary in a respectful manner to make sure they are safe to themselves and others if symptomatology is present. Physicians should not be treated differently than their patients. Yes, the stigma needs to be removed, however these double standards contribute to physicians not seeking or getting the mental health help they need.

  3. Newsy is back door CNN, they tell some truth just to sell you but then they put the big but in their, but bla bla bla political narrative bla bla bla, these guys are frauds . Their just another CNN with political bias telling you storys and them saying (but )this and that this and that….

  4. Please god help these dr because so many of them have gotten me to reach the age of 61. God bless each and every care giver.

  5. This story with newsy is another bs story by newsy , newsy is claiming again that Bernie sanders is trying to stop Walmart from paying their customers a low wage. Are you kidding their all part of the same group. On what planet is that a real story for those who are actually are awake on this country we already know. Sanders and Walmart aswell as a massive amount of business including this newsy network are all working together . I wasnt sure about newsy until now , do you really think people dont know who your in business with. If you thr writers dont know then maybe your as a journalist should put the work in and investigate the company you work for, newsy is a sellout just like cnn,msnb, and all the rest of them. What a idiotic try

  6. Rome is reaping what it sowed….this is a result of how the West has treated people. People have always put doctors on high pedestals, because of the money, but it is not worth it.

  7. Maybe they wouldn't be so depressed if they didn't have to take so many vaccinations every year and that's what's killing them

  8. Dentists, veterinarians, doctors so many in the medical industry are suffering from all the traumas they have to endure. I think about this often and hope they find peace and find help:(

  9. i am finishing year med student and i am thinking of never engaging into this career my alternative for now is trucking , people laugh when i tell them. I would maybe engage into laboratory medicine or radiology but working with patients is very stressful and can have big impact on your personal life. Not to mention spending time in hospital it feels like a bunker.

  10. I worked in a hospital for 18 years, and I do feel compassion for physicians like this. However, the overwhelming number of physicians I came into contact with do not care enough to get depressed over the patient's health. It's a job no different than flipping burgers to many of them, it's a way to make a living and pay for the things they do enjoy doing. I even had one doctor tell me he stopped getting emotional about patients because it would burn him out, so he did a 180 and didn't care at all. He said as long as he did enough to not get a lawsuit against him, that was fine with him. It's the main reason I got out of the healthcare industry, the total lack of care and concern for the patient. Do just enough to stay out of trouble. Sad reality.

  11. This goes beyond the Dr/Physician. I think it is more relevant in the medical professional community than we care to know. In part it is the system

  12. I'm writing this comment to help real doctors by acknowledging their suffering.

    Many physicians got A+-for all the tests while studying and have put in the same effort working their real jobs in hospitals. However they couldn't prevent errors while working. yet they most probably remember the patients full name, illness and what went wrong during the operation.

    Their colleagues don't talk about it, so the physician is excluded from dialogs and/or discussions about his failures. The hospitals don't want court-cases that penalizes them with enormous money-payments. These well-performing doctors carry a burden throughout time even when nobody is allowed to say sorry because that would state admission of guilt.

    In psychiatry there's no such 'remorse' among the ranks even when it's quite apparent that the medication(s) they prescribed triggered their patients to end their lives because of the chemical imbalance the medications were causing. There is no penalty that punishes these 'fake' doctors when they mis-diagnose and thus mis-medicate. Even worse, these psychiatrists often say that they would make the same decisions again.

    I'm however commenting to reach out to the 'real' doctors and offer you/them a little solace by explaining that 'errors-mistakes-failures' are part of your profession and you never had a chance of doing your job for years and years without making mistakes. It happens to all of us no matter how hard we push ourselves to prevent making mistakes. I want to let you know that even when no-one speaks about your (honorable) suffering in silence, there are many who understand you and hope & pray you'll forgive yourself because 'we' already have done so….

    sit patriae solamen ademptae

  13. That doctor has withdrawen from life and he need to seek professional help ASAP for the sake of his well being and so he can still be around for his family!!!!

  14. When thinking about suicide did he not think about the permanent damage he would inflict on his family? Especially since he has small children?

  15. Thank you for shining the light on this dark and disturbing problem that robs so many of their lives. This is great work that you are doing and will help so many and save lives.

  16. Now I know why my doctor friend runs a marathon. For her own physical and mental well being.

  17. So just like everyone else that lives in this shitty society we have created. They just have a stable job, good for them.

  18. The standard of care is designed to kill people. Maybe they are all growing a conscience finally. Those who speak out get killed by big pharma or put on the terrorist watch list. Youtube Dr Jennifer Daniels story, she is just one of many whistleblowers. There is no money in cures. The hospital makes more when a pt dies, than survives. #Facts.

  19. Doctors have the power to totally destroy the quality of others lives and they do it daily. They did it to me and have done it to a number of people I've known.They Should be depressed about this, or that would just make them a total demon on earth now wouldn't it.

  20. Can one actually measure when it starts. Studying medicine alone should be enough to make one take their life. Any degree can do that to you these days. The actual job is just the tip of the iceberg.

    I'm no doctor but I believe we need to reevaluate how our education and employment systems are negatively affecting our health. We learn to much and work too hard at any given time!!!

    As people we just need to slow down and live…

  21. Very Sad. Just because, I have lost over 53 years of my Life. To Massive Medical Harming etc. I DO NOT want anyone to end their Lives. I could have turned out very badly. OK I get very distressed & find everything difficult. However, only Peace & Understanding, will Prevail eventually. See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Do No Evil. Please Be Honest, Truthful & Respectful of everyone & First – Please Do No Harm. NEVER Take anyone's life away from them & help those, that may be thinking of taking theirs. One Life, One Chance. Thank You. Polly Drugging of Psych Meds, Benzodiazepines & All other medicos, have totally destroyed me, in Myriads of ways. It's a Hell of a Tortured & Painful Existence. One wrong Decision, Word, Action, Pill, CAN Change a persons Life & can Take IT away. Big Pharma are to BLAME, for much or ALL, of this World Wide. They employ Executive 'Thought Leaders' & others, to Groom young Doctors at Medical Schools, to Trust & Believe in them & that DRUGS are the Answer to ALL ILLS….. They are NOT, I am Living proof of this. Anything that enters our Bodies & Brains, that is Not of Natural Origin, will be Alien to our Bodies & Brains & if not at first, eventually WILL attribute to Myriads of other Highly Painful & agonising others. Then Poly drugging steps in & on it goes. Truth / Fact. Stop Relying on any one Drug to FIX us. Greed & Disrespect, for our Human Vessels, MUST be CHANGED. Peace.

  22. Nice to see an anethesiologist with a conscience? I could show you a video of one without a conscience. So actually? Im happy to see this.
    Please doctors get yourselves help because YOUR mental health DOES affect the care I get and it affects my health.
    Ive been injured several times by drs and procedures, and of course its lied about and covered up.

  23. I’m going to have to buy snacks for the doctors that work so hard. I don’t know what they are going through. Just a Registered Nurse speaking.

  24. I am a doctor I am thinking of committing suicide I am really really tired I can’t take it anymore this job is really making me stressful and just tired I want to die in peace

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